With Victor Pineda and Harry Shipp, the Fire has had their first two homegrown players make an appearance with the first team. Shipp, in particular, has been excellent and the best rookie in MLS so far. Add in Benji Joya and the Fire have a very exciting youth movement taking place. A key to success in the future is sustaining this youth movement. Recently, the Fire academy has been doing a lot of great things to insure the future success of the academy through a wide variety of tournaments.
In January, the U-16's went to Qatar to participate in the Al Kass International Cup. In this tournament, the Fire got to play against Aspire (a well-funded Qatar academy), Manchester City and FC Porto. They lost all three games and were outscored 10-3 in the games but all three games were close for the majority of the game. There were no true blowouts. This was great experience for the U-16's to play against some of the greatest youngsters in the world. The academy system exposes the players to some great teams but the opportunity to play these teams is invaluable.
At the beginning of the month, the U-13's traveled to Italy to play in the Abano Youth Tournament. They were the only MLS team to participate just like they were the only MLS team in Qatar. They lost to Fiorentina, Bayer Leverkusen and Atalanta. The Fire were able to beat Abano of Italy and CSKA Moscow though. Once again the young Fire team got to play against world-class academies and see how they compare.
The U-13's also went to the prestigious Dallas Cup and won their group. They ended up losing in the quarterfinals to the Chivas USA academy but still impressed. The U-14's and U-18's are both near the top of their U.S. academy leagues. The Fire also had nine player sign for a Division 1 program last year too. Recently, Collin Fernandez, Cameron Lindley and Mauricio Pineda were all called up to the U.S. U-18 team. On Tuesday, Lindley committed to UNC for college.
Now while the positive results are nice to see, the thing that is important to keep in mind is that results don't really matter. At this age, you want the kids to be learning the right way to play and honing their technical skills. As much as we would like to see them win tournaments and leagues, it's more important to focus on what they are learning, not what the final score is.
All of this is very encouraging stuff for the future of the Fire. Hopefully the Fire finalize their partnership with St. Louis so young players on the fringe will have a place to get playing time. It's also great to see the club commit to the youth in the way that they have. They have sent the team around to some of the world's best tournaments which can help the club compare where the Fire is against some of the world's best. No MLS team went to either Qatar or Italy. This is great to see from the club and I hope to see more of it in the future.